How To Clean a Keurig Using Vinegar or Keurig’s Descaling Solution

Last Updated: by: Amanda T

Keurig Coffee Maker

You value your Keurig coffee maker for its convenience. But unless you descale the inside of it on a regular basis, it won’t be convenient for long. If you’ve ever seen that “PRIME” message light up on your machine, you know what we’re talking about. That’s when mineral deposits clog up your favorite morning brewmaster and turn it into a most inconvenient monster.

Why do you have to clean your Keurig coffee maker?

Since you only pour clean water into your Keurig, you may think the insides of the coffee maker should never need cleaning. However, with each refill, calcium, magnesium, and other minerals leave trace amounts behind in your machine. The amount and specific kind of each will depend on where you live. Some areas have water that’s “harder” than others, meaning the water has more dissolved minerals in it than are found in other places. Knowing what kind of water you have could be helpful with the maintenance of your machine. The harder your water is, the more residue will be left behind in your machine.

The residue happens because as the water heats in your Keurig, a chemical combustion occurs and causes the minerals to leach out of the water. When the water empties, minerals remain behind in a coating on the metal parts of your Keurig. Eventually, if left alone, that coating builds on itself and turns into hard-to-remove chunks called scale. Depending on where you live, it could be a calcium scale, limescale, or another form. By neglecting to descale your Keurig, you allow mineral deposits to grow so big that they can clog your machine and prevent it from functioning properly.

When should you clean your Keurig?

It’s never a good idea to wait for that PRIME message to show up on your Keurig coffee maker. Some machines do have an automatic reminder that will pop up before it’s too late. If yours doesn’t have that notification ability, Keurig recommends descaling your machine every two to three months as preventative maintenance. If you’re a heavy user, you should probably do it closer to that two-month mark. If you know your water is considered harder than normal, you may want to do it even more frequently.

Some people swear their coffee has a slightly different taste as the scale builds up. But scale buildup seldom affects the taste of plain water, so it may not be noticeable in your coffee. You really can’t rely on taste to tell you it’s time to descale your Keurig. If in doubt, a simple inspection with a flashlight will reveal scale on the inside of your machine. If you see it, descale it.

What’s the best way to descale?

Keurig sells a descaling solution, but many people swear by simply using white vinegar. We put them both to the test, and here’s what we found out.

Is vinegar good for cleaning your Keurig?

From the outset, plain white vinegar seems to have the advantage:

  • It’s relatively inexpensive.
  • You can find it in any grocery store or market.
  • It’s non-toxic and environmentally friendly.

Keep in mind, we’re talking about plain white vinegar here, nothing with color and nothing made from apple cider, rice, or anything else. We’re referring to the plain white vinegar you can buy in large plastic jugs that have been used for decades as a cleaning solution.

vinegar

Image credit: Sean MacEntee, Flickr

To clean with vinegar, you need some basic supplies:

  • The vinegar itself
  • Common dish soap
  • Clean cloths or paper towels
  • An old toothbrush

Here are the actual steps we took for our trial run. We:

  1. Ensured the machine was off and unplugged.
  2. Took the machine apart: removed the water reservoir and lid, drip tray, mug stand, and K-cup holder.
  3. Washed the removable pieces with warm water and dish soap, then allowed them to air-dry.
  4. With a wet paper towel, wiped down the entire surface of the machine. There was so much gunk around the pod holder that we had to use an old toothbrush to scrub it away.
  5. Now that all the pieces were clean, put the machine back together and plugged it in.
  6. Filled the reservoir only halfway with the white vinegar and then added enough water to bring the liquid to the fill line.
  7. With a mug in the proper position, hit the “start” button, let the cup fill, then threw away the vinegar-water. We repeated that step until the reservoir was empty.
  8. Fearing our first cup of coffee from the clean machine might have a hint of vinegar, we filled the reservoir with fresh water and ran it through the machine, emptying each cup after it filled.

The result? The coffee still had a hint of a vinegar taste. After doing a second round of plain water, that hint was gone. An interior inspection showed the scale was gone.

Using Keurig’s Descaling SolutionKeurig’s Descaling Solution

Here are the initial differences between using Keurig Descaling Solution and white vinegar:

  • Keurig’s Descaling Solution is a little more expensive than vinegar. However, according to the folks at Keurig, it’s a great solution to clean tea kettles and other small appliances that heat water. That makes up for the price.
  • Keurig’s solution was not as easily found in local markets, but it is easy to purchase online.

To clean with Keurig’s Descaling Solution:

To clean with Keurig’s solution, we took the same steps as we did with the vinegar, except we needed the Keurig manual for our machine to tell us how much to use. We:

  1. Unplugged the machine.
  2. Removed all parts and washed them.
  3. Wiped down the entire exterior and put everything back together again.
  4. Plugged the unit back in.
  5. Poured Keurig Descaling Solution into the reservoir. For this part, we had to check our manual. The descaling solution Keurig makes works in all its automatic, manual, pod and K-cup, and commercial machines. We weren’t sure how much to add to the reservoir, but a quick check of the manual cleared that up.
  6. Put in a cup and hit “start.”
  7. Because the manual specifically did NOT say to run a reservoir of water through the machine when we were done, went ahead and made a cup of coffee. It was delicious!

Keurig Descaling Solution vs White Vinegar

Both worked fine, but we liked only having to go through the process once with the descaler, versus running the machine three times (once with vinegar and twice with water) before we could get a fresh, good-tasting cup of coffee.

We noticed in the manual that if your machine should malfunction during your warranty period and you had cleaned it with something other than Keurig’s Descaling Solution, your warranty would be voided. Despite the vinegar costing less, it might be less expensive in the long run to use the Keurig product in case you ever need a warranty repair or replacement.

If you want to keep your Keurig running smoothly and fully functioning, our suggestion is to descale it every two to three months with Keurig’s Descaling Solution. Otherwise, it might just turn into an inconvenient monster with a warranty problem!

Sources:

Ted R. Lingle, The Coffee Brewing Handbook

Image credit: Tony Webster, Flickr